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India’s Christmas Dilemma

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Most of us would have come across this controversial news regarding the opposition of a certain Hindu radical group named Hindu Jagran Manch to the celebration of Christmas in convent schools by non-Christian (read Hindu) students, claiming the celebrations are a front for conversion of such students by the school authorities. They also gave written warnings to schools in Aligarh and elsewhere to stop any kind of celebrations.

To begin with, I must admit that this is arguably the most baseless and erroneous claim I have ever come across. Starting with violent acts of mob lynching, this particular incident has taken this polemic of radicalization to a record low – where they would not hesitate to poison the minds of innocent children with unnecessary hatred towards each other.

When I heard this news, I recalled my own experience of going to a convent school for a few years where the founders and the principal were all Christians. Every morning we said prayers addressed to “Our Father”, without any word of Hindi or Sanskrit, that were used in my latter school. In every classroom, there was a miniature woodcut sculpture of crucified Jesus. There were several paintings on the life of Jesus and psalms from the Bible all along the corridors.

These were some of the symbols of Christianity that we came across on a daily basis. Although the children celebrated all the festivals with equal fervour, Christmas celebrations were undoubtedly special. Did doing all this make us any less of a Hindu or an Indian? Did any of us non-Christians convert to Christianity? Have we shown any disrespect to our respective religions or cultures? Do these organizations even have a single line of factual data to prove their towering claims?

The answer to all these questions is a big NO. On the contrary, I would argue that instead of taking us away from our own religion, these schools give us an opportunity to know and understand their religion and customs by being a part of it. It develops a sense of affection and respect towards the religion and the people practising it. At the same time, it also provides us with an opportunity to see our religion through the eyes of others and receive feedback for our own good. The school authorities did a commendable job by not giving in to the undemocratic and pointless demands of these religious hooligans.

Irrespective of religion, kids have a special place for Christmas in their heart. The idea of Santa Claus, gifts and cakes itself is so attractive to them that they don’t even care about religion. This is one festival that everyone can enjoy and celebrate in their own way, thus making it a pan-religious and pan-cultural festival.

Coming back to the recent issue, the claims made by these insignificant groups not only highlights their lack of faith and conviction in their own religion, but also in the upbringing they give to their children. They have undermined the strength and dynamic nature of Hinduism by creating a hilarious situation where the majority is apprehensive of the minority.

They tend to forget that the strength of Hinduism lies in its own internal diversity that originates from the freedom of choice given to its followers to choose their own gods, customs as well as texts. This makes it entirely different from other religions, including Christianity, which are bound to a single god and holy text. This is the main reason for its continuing existence.

It is indeed true that the Christian missionaries resorted to conversion to spread their religion in India and other parts of the world, and this forms the base of the recent agitations. But we have to also consider that most of these converts comprise of either the tribal or Dalit population. Unfortunately, these sections have been historically kept out of the mainstream Hindu culture. Christianity did the needful by filling in this vacuum, because we all need some sort of religious affirmation and a God to look up to in times of distress. It is a basic human need that Hinduism failed to provide them with.

So these actions of opening old wounds do not mean anything and are just another way to create social unrest and assert religious radicalism in the minds of the people. Since antiquity, Hinduism has seen numerous civilizations, empires, invaders and fanatics, but has never lost its stronghold and continues to mutually prosper with other religions. Although it has some intrinsic faults, the most imminent danger it faces today is from its own people, some of whom continue to feed religious paranoia among its believers. It is most imperative for us to remember that religions, like civilizations, fall not due to any external factor but mainly due to the decay within.

So my humble request to my fellow countrymen is to simply ignore such petty issues and celebrate every religion and every festival as their own, and leave a great composite culture for our next generation to cherish, instead of dividing them with narrow walls of hatred and disgust.

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  1. DonStarns

    I’ve been bombarded with Christmas propaganda for more than 60 years, and am no more Christian than I am Hindu.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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